How Russians see Ukraine’s Independence

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2016/08/24 • History, Politics, Russia, Ukraine

Article by: Olena Matusova

Although the Soviet Union collapsed more than 25 years ago, Russians are still not ready to accept some former Soviet republics as separate independent states. The Baltic countries, the Caucasus and Central Asia are viewed as more or less separate social and cultural entities. However, it becomes more complicated when we look at countries whose mentality and culture are so to speak closer to Russia’s, namely Ukraine and Belarus. Nearly half of the people polled by Radio Liberty (RFE) on the streets of Moscow replied that they did not perceive Ukraine as an independent state. Why is this attitude still so widespread in Russia?

Over the past two years, relations between Russia and Ukraine have declined steadily and have reached rock bottom in the long history of both countries. Viktor Mironenko, Candidate of Historical Studies from the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences believes that the origin of the current conflict goes back centuries:

“Russia and Ukraine are bound by a long and common history, that is, I refer to most of modern Ukraine with the exception of Western Ukraine. Relations between the two ethnic groups, which used to be called Great Russians and Little Russians (великороси і малороси), evolved in a difficult way. For more than two centuries, the majority of the population in Tsarist Russia belonged to the peasant class – more than 90 percent. And yet, even though they were miserable and oppressed, they felt somewhat “comforted” by the fact that others were even lower than them. Then and now, Russians generally thought and think that “Little Russians (Ukrainians) and White Russians (Belarusians) are more or less equal co-religionists, but still a little lower on the social scale than them. Unfortunately, this idea of Russian predominance has been preserved and transmitted from generation to generation.”

The arrogance and “big brother” complex that Russians inherited from the tsarist and soviet periods continue to thrive in the Russian mind. Russian political scientist and sociologist Tatiana Vorozheykina refers to this complex as phantom imperial nostalgia.

“Everything that ever was Russia, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union – conquered or annexed – was considered ours. This applies to both the general public and those who see themselves as Russian democrats and liberals. I remember very well when Anatoliy Sobchak spoke angrily on August 24, 1991, immediately after the attempted coup in Moscow, when Ukraine declared its independence (Anatoliy Sobchak (1937–2000) was a Russian politician, the first democratically elected mayor of Saint Petersburg, and a mentor and teacher of both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev-Ed.). What he said to Ukraine’s leaders was quite clear: set up a democracy first, and then we’ll talk about independence. That’s the typical arrogant attitude all Russian leaders have towards Ukraine. It pains me to hear such things.”

Ms Vorozheykina draws attention to the fact that Russian intellectuals often use a patronizing instructive tone when speaking of the Ukrainian government and its leaders. She also feels that Russian society is responsible for the ongoing aggression against their neighbour.

“What right do we have to give Ukraine advice? We are the aggressor country! We, as a society, also share responsibility for this aggression because we have failed to prevent it or stop it. We have no anti-war movement in the country!”

Russia launched its most powerful and widespread propaganda campaign after the annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Russian viewers were exposed to  nothing but one-sided and biased reports by federal television channels. It is no wonder that Russians have become so poisoned by official propaganda that they are afraid to travel to Ukraine. The population is literally “fed” unfair and discriminatory television images. Political scientist Viktor Mironenko believes that such a warped perception of their neighbour – Ukraine – and of the world in general can cause serious and sometimes irreparable consequences in Russian society.

Russians became divided after the events of 2014 in Ukraine. This division is obvious not only in different social strata, but also in families. Propagandists were ready and started playing with the imperial complex that has lain in the depths of Russian consciousness for so many years.

“It is this complex – this unshakable imperial complex – that runs through all strata of our society. It was enhanced and strengthened through propaganda after the annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine. I think there’s a very fine psychological line here. In principle, it’s difficult for a normal person to grab something that doesn’t belong to him. But, it becomes much easier if you’re repeatedly told that it’s yours, and only yours, that it’s definitely not somebody else’s.”

They say that time heals all wounds, but in 25 years of independence Russia and Ukraine have not moved any closer, and in fact, have drifted further apart. No one is even trying to predict how soon the two neighbouring countries will return to normal relations. It may take another 25 years or more… Many Ukrainians believe that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has buried the concept of “brotherly nations”, and has pointed them in completely different directions.

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Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Source: Radio Liberty

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  • Scradje

    Very well observed. The patronising imperial mindset has always been there, but putler has gone a step further by committing atrocities that amount to a gargantuan hate crime and unleashing a torrent of disinformation aimed at destabilizing his neighbours.

    • Czech Mate

      His hate is so evil in that it is so clinical and meticulously distributed if you get my point.

    • Y K

      It should be remembered that this “imperial mindset” was one of the chief reasons for the Whites’ defeat in the Russian Civil War. They kept clinging to the notion of “One Russia, indivisible”, ignoring, belittling and at times actively fighting the national aspirations of the non-Russian peoples, until it was too late and all was lost.

  • Alex George

    Putin has a rare talent, for uniting others against him!

    Despite everything, Ukraine was closely enmeshed with Russia on so many levels – trade, politics, economies, culture and more. But 2014 was a major watershed. Since then, the ties have been steadily broken down. Historians will look back and see this as more important than the story of the fighting.

    Ukraine has undergone a major re-alignment, and many in both countries are still yet to grasp how profound it is.

    • Lev Havryliv

      The past “closeness” of Ukraine and Russia was forced, artificial and one-sided.

      Any objective reading of Ukrainian history indicates that Russia and the majority of Russians have harboured mainly hostility, chauvinism, condescending attitudes and ill-will towards nationally conscious Ukrainians.

      I wish it were otherwise but we can’t ignore reality.

      I’m reminded of the comment that Russians love Ukrainians but they hate Ukrainians who love Ukraine.

      • Scradje

        They are the worse type of race supremacist imperialists; they genuinely believe they are superior to the many unfortunate nations they occupied. Remember that video shot on an occupying soldier’s phone after they sacked Gori in 2008? Spitting hatred and envy at the same time.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        During a speech in Zürich in 1914, Lenin said “What Ireland was for England, the Ukraine has become for Russia: exploited in the extreme, receiving nothing in return. Thus the interests of the world proletariat in general and the Russian proletariat in particular require that the Ukraine regains its independence.”
        Of course, once he had seized power and become the New Red Tsar, he conveniently “forgot” his earlier statement. The Imperial Mindset reappeared with a vengeance.

        • Lev Havryliv

          True.

          Lenin’s promises of national self- determination for Ukrainians were a cynical propaganda ploy to weaken Czarist Russian rule and establish Bolshevik rule in Ukraine. His Red Army brutally suppressed the independent Ukrainian National Republic of 1917-21.

          Lenin’s Bolsheviks set up a puppet Soviet government in Kharkiv and proceeded to wage war against Ukraine. As a result central and eastern Ukraine came under illegal Russian Soviet occupation. An occupation which lasted until 1991.

      • Oknemfrod

        >… towards nationally conscious Ukrainians…<

        Precisely. In fact, in the Russian psyche the very Ukrainian word for "conscientious" – "свідомий" – is entrenched as some sort of anomaly and is usually used by Russians with contemptuous and sneering air. This attitude us so deeply entrenched that they don't even notice the obvious idiocy of considering someone who is "conscientious" as abnormal vs someone who's apparently not, as if being mindless is superior to being thoughtful, dedicated, sedulous, etc.

        To your point of historical perspective, this attitude and usage had formed and existed long before the Ukrainian Independence, let alone the Maidan. I recall how once, back in the 1980's in Kyiv, a coworker and friend of mine was summoned to the head of the "5th department" – i.e. a KGB office that existed at every Soviet workplace – to explain why, as it had been "reported" by another coworker, he always spoke Ukrainian. He said that it was his first native language and, besides, it was only natural to use it at work in an institute of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, to which the KGB guy barked back: "Ты что, 'свидомый'?" ("What are you, 'conscientious'?).

        We often carp – and rightly so – about the lack of progress in many areas since the Independence was won, but one thing is certain: Episodes like the one I just described are no longer thinkable in today's Ukraine.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      Quite apart from the political side, the realignment is also increasingly visible in the economy. Dwarfstan was once the most important trading partner; now, it is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the Ukrainians as China, India, Egypt, Turkey and the EU have pushed Dwarfstan down the scale.
      Antonov used to obtain many parts for its aircraft from subcontractors in Dwarfstan, but is switching to subcontractors in the EU, US, Japan and other countries, a process which will be completed next year. End result: Dwarfstan sells nothing. A small example perhaps, but symbolic of what is increasingly occurring all over the Ukraine as companies search for new markets now that Pedo Vladito Putolini boycotts Ukrainian products in the hope of ruining the Ukrainian economy. He is too thick to realise that he is also harming Dwarfstan’s economy and at the same time losing even more influence in Kyiv- permanently.

  • Lev Havryliv

    With a few important exceptions, Russians have been overwhelmingly hostile to Ukrainian independence and sovereignty.

    Russia is guilty of grave and repeated crimes against Ukraine and Ukrainians. The Holodomor, forced linguistic and cultural Russifications, destruction of Ukrainian political, literary and intellectual elites, terror, deportations, economic exploitation are just some of the horrors visited by Russia on Ukraine.

    And today we gave the Russian chauvinist and imperialist Putin continuing Russia’s attacks on Ukraine.

    Russia was never a brotherly nation to Ukraine. Until Russia changes dramatically, the best thing for Ukraine is to have the least to do with Russia as is possible.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      “Никогда мы не будем братями”- “We will never be brothers.”:

      • Greg

        This is one of the best songs to reflect the two countries break. It is great that Ukraine has come out of the Russian nightmare. Listen to the words, think about them, they truly demonstrate the difference between Ukrainians and their poor cousins Russians!

    • Oknemfrod

      Exactly what needed to be added, pane Leve, lest the phrase “Russia and Ukraine are bound by a long and common history” used in the article create the perception that somehow the two peoples had lived for centuries like “brothers” and then all of a sudden the “brotherhood” went awry. For let’s not forget that a labor camp warden and his inmates are also “bound by a long and common history”.

      • Dagwood Bumstead

        Hear, hear! Hear, hear!

  • danram

    Yeah, I’d say that if a neighboring country invades and occupies your land without cause, kills thousands of your people, and uses every dirty trick in the book to try and destabilize your government and your society, you can safely dispense with the concept of “brotherly nations”.

  • Vladislav Surkov

    I support a fully free and independent Ukraine for many reasons. That closing photo only adds another. :-)

    Hubba Hubba!

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      I respectfully submit that while the young lady is cute, they should really have posted a photo of Yulia Volodomirivna, who is drop-dead gorgeous.

      • Vladislav Surkov

        Tymoshenko? I prefer the woman photographed above. Yulia always gave me that Sarah Palin vibe. I have no idea or opinion regarding Ms. Tymoshenko’s intelligence. It’s just the use of so much make-up.

        I harbor no ill feelings toward Ukraine’s former PM.

      • Oknemfrod

        And I’d suggest yet another Yulia:

        • gmab

          Beauty, brains & courage!! She has a great future ahead of her.

      • Alex George

        the braided one? Ummm, okay…

  • Czech Mate

    Just one thought. Isn’t the “European” ruSSia smaller in every socio-economic aspect when compared to Ukraine? What is BIG to them when it is backwards Asian 5th world country standard at best?

    They are joke and certainly not belonging to Europe unlike Ukraine.

  • Dagwood Bumstead

    “Dwarfstanians are afraid to travel to the Ukraine”? Good. Then get out of the Donbas and Crimea!

  • zorbatheturk

    RuSSiyan dumbness and arrogance never ceases to surprise. I know RuSSiyans are from Planet Zog, but can they not read a map in an atlas? Ukraine is a separate state. There is nothing Soviet about it any more. Nobody in Ukraine wants Moscow, Putin, or the Kremlin telling them what to do. It’s called independence. It’s called national self-determination. It’s called freedom. Obviously a concept so foreign to the Russian mindset that hell will freeze over before the politically repressed Putinoids can grasp it.

    No matter, the message to Vladolf Putler is simple: GET LOST!

    Putin begone.

  • Greg

    it is beyond comprehension that Russians can believe Ukrainians feel like brothers!!! God, Russians murdered millions have always murdered millions.
    In no way can Russia be a brother to Ukraine today, tomorrow or ever!!